London braces for further tube strikes amid new plan to shed 600 jobs

<span>Photograph: James Manning/PA</span>
Photograph: James Manning/PA

Unions condemn TfL pre-Christmas move to reduce customer service posts as ‘cynical’ and ‘shameless’

London could be hit by further tube strikes after transport bosses outlined plans to shed 600 posts to combat the effects of the pandemic on the capital’s finances.

Transport for London (TfL) is poised to impose a recruitment freeze on customer services jobs, with about 250 currently unfilled and further 350 posts to go as and when staff leave.

The RMT union said it would ballot its London members for industrial action to stop what it called a “cynically engineered crisis”, while the TSSA union said the timing before Christmas was “shameful”.

TfL said discussions were at an early stage, but the underground would remain well staffed, with more than 4,500 customer service staff across the network.

Nick Dent, London Underground’s director of customer operations, said: “The devastating impact of the pandemic on our finances has made a programme of change urgently necessary.

“The safety and security of customers and colleagues is still our top priority, and we will ensure in all circumstances our staff will continue to be visible and available to help customers at all times – including offering the on-demand turn up and go service to assist disabled customers.”

Strikes have already been called in response to changes over working conditions around the night tube, with RMT members on affected lines walking out at weekend evenings until Christmas, and a 24-hour strike scheduled for 18 December.

Related: Boris Johnson says unions are 'holding gun' to London's head with tube strike

More widespread action is now likely, with the RMT fearing the plan to axe 600 posts is the start of further cuts, with the government imposing stringent conditions on the funds it has given to London.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said TfL’s crisis had “been deliberately engineered by the government to drive a cuts agenda which would savage jobs, services, safety and threaten the working conditions and‎ pensions of our members … The politicians need to wake up to the fact that transport staff will not pay the price for this cynically engineered crisis.”

Lorraine Ward, the TSSA’s organising director, said the union would fight job losses: “We need to encourage more people on to public transport, but cutting station staff will damage that effort. Staff are already fearful for their futures and the way that London Underground has snuck this out just weeks before Christmas is shameful.

London has appealed to central government for more emergency funding to cover the shortfall in revenue, with billions lost in tube fares since passengers were told to avoid public transport at the start of the pandemic.

While demand has come back to about 60% of pre-pandemic levels on weekdays, a TfL report on travel trends published this week said that demand may stay below previous forecasts, with an expected rise in journeys not materialising after “freedom day” when Covid restrictions were lifted in July. It said 84% of workers expect to have some form of hybrid working in future, with only about 70% of people yet returning to city workplaces at all.

Talks have started between TfL and the government before an 11 December deadline, when the current deal runs out. TfL is looking for a further £1.7bn in funding until April 2023, but even under the existing settlement it has committed to reduce expenditure.

The transport commissioner, Andy Byford, has warned that without support London faces a “bleak future” of managed decline, while the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said there would be “no choice but to make significant cuts to services just as demand is growing again”.

A government spokesperson said: “We will continue to discuss any further funding requirements with TfL and the mayor, and any support provided will focus on getting TfL back on to a sustainable financial footing in a way that is fair to taxpayers across the country.”

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